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IAEA Chief Highlights IAEA Response to COVID-19 at NAM summit in Azerbaijan; Discusses Strengthening of Nuclear Technical Cooperation


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi addressed the19th Summit-level Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on Post-COVID-19 Recovery. (Photo: D. Candano Laris /IAEA)

The devastating impact of COVID-19 across economies has highlighted the need to build back more sustainably, and nuclear science and technology are valuable tools to help achieve this, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told world leaders at the19th Summit-level Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on Post-COVID-19 Recovery, which took place in Azerbaijan last week.

During his two-day trip to the country, the Director General attended the NAM, where he detailed the impact of the IAEA’s COVID-19 emergency assistance operation to NAM countries, both during and after the height of the pandemic, and met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and government leaders.

“In the spring of 2020, when Covid-19 was not yet a worldwide pandemic, the IAEA began what would become the biggest emergency assistance operation in its nearly 70-year history,” Mr Grossi said. The IAEA provided support in the rapid detection and management of COVID-19 by providing real-time RT-PCR diagnostic kits and related materials to more than 300 laboratories and institutions, meeting an unprecedented number of requests for assistance from 129 countries, most of them members of the NAM.

The Director General highlighted that in responding to the pandemic, the IAEA had worked in partnership with Food and Agriculture Programme of the United Nations (FAO) and in close cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and as a member of the United Nations Crisis Management Team. “This global partnership enabled the project to extend its reach,” he said.

Mr Grossi also highlighted the IAEA’s ZODIAC (Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action) project, which he said builds on the IAEA’s emergency assistance, helping countries to boost their capacity to detect and study viruses using PCR and other nuclear techniques. The project aims to establish a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal and zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, avian influenza and Zika. 

To date, ZODIAC has connected 127 national laboratories around the world. “ZODIAC will strengthen national detection and diagnostic capabilities and allow for real-time decisions when time is of the essence to stop an exponential outbreak,” Mr Grossi said.

During his visit, Mr Grossi met with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, to whom he extended his congratulations for successfully chairing the NAM for the 2019–2022 period. The two agreed to continue working together to maximise the benefits of the peaceful uses of nuclear technology and applications, particularly to enhance aspects related to human health as well as agricultural productivity in the country, through the use of nuclear techniques. They also discussed nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Last year, with the support of the IAEA in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Azerbaijan introduced climate-smart agricultural practices that showed promise for framers to more than double their  yields of cotton. Azerbaijan has a highly diverse climate and its land is particularly vulnerable to climate change and soil degradation. The application of climate-smart nuclear techniques, which involve the use of isotopes to obtain essential information to optimize fertilizer and maintain soil health, show significant potential to strengthen the county’s agricultural productivity. The IAEA also provides ongoing support to the country’s National Centre of Oncology, helping to enhance the quality of cancer diagnostics treatment and clinical expertise, and improve the Centre’s radiation oncology infrastructure.

On the margins of the NAM summit, Mr Grossi met several NAM leaders. With the Prime Minister of Algeria, Aymen Benabderrahmane, discussions focused on strengthening the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for development in the region. At the 66th IAEA General Conference In September last year, Algeria – which does not yet have a nuclear power supply – favourably cited nuclear as a potential energy source. Algeria was one of 10 countries that attended an IAEA workshop in 2022, aimed at building nuclear capacity through training on how to use neutrons safely in response to the growing global interest in nuclear applications for energy, medicine, agriculture and industry. The country has also cooperated with the IAEA to deliver training on leadership skills in the field of nuclear medicine for the diagnosis and treatment of disease, an area of consistent development and growth in Africa.

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